Friday, September 11, 2015

Old School Methods 7: Fly

Little advertisement before we start (and I'm going to keep this up until the Kickstarter finishes): go to the Northlands Saga Kickstarter; it's worth the time and money.

Maneuverability under stress or in difficult conditions. Flying isn't about the inherent ability to fly, it's about how well you fly when using a spell or other sort of device.

When it has to do with conditions, this is what I'd generally call an internal game, or a game within a game. When it has to to with combat tactics, it's got a direct application to an existing set of rules. When it's a game within a game, you're talking about a randomized way of applying something from the character sheet to a way of getting a benefit or suffering a setback.

Tests like this are either one-or-the-other (fall or stay mounted on flying carpet, accurately get between the wind-whipped pillars, etc), or there might be degrees of success (how fast you reach the objective 10 miles away through the wind).

In either case, the skill of flying pretty much applies only to magic-users, since that's the only class with any possible training, but there has to be a way of determining it for members of other classes as well.

Method 1 (simple resolution)
For one-or-the-other, binary-type tests

For non-magic-users, use a DEX check if it's about close-in flying. Use a WIS check if it's about long-distance flying through obstacles. Give magic-users a bonus on the roll (if this makes sense under the circumstances). Alternatively, use a saving throw (this focuses on level rather than attributes). The more doctrinaire you are about being "old school" the more you lean toward character level as the most important factor. I think in this situation that would be dogmatic, but opinions may vary.

Method 2 (series of challenges)
If the situation is an important one, and is more like a game within a game, it's either just extended random checks (sketchy in terms of testing player skill, but exciting) or it's something where player skill comes into play (more interesting but can also bog down the pace). Player skill requires a puzzle or a tactical decision based on knowledge, and I can't off the top of my head think of how flying would give rise to this kind of a game. For a pure excitement-boost series of randomized checks, the situation would be based on a series of changing conditions (wind, obstacles, etc). Possibly even these are randomly determined.

Given that player skill and character level have no real bearing on a flying-type challenge, I would tend to avoid these, and treat flying success as either completely automatic, or determined by a base chance if it's distance travel. It can be used as an excitement booster, but if that's the case, make it short and fairly easy. Excitement boosters should ALWAYS have a second chance to pull the fat out of the fire. If for no other reason than to boost the tension even higher, but also to avoid the feeling that a bad outcome was determined entirely by the dice.

Art: The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880)
Music: Of course.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Old School Methods 6: Disguise and Escape Artist

Series continues. Word from our sponsor is to check out the Northlands Saga Kickstarter at

Continuing in my survey of methods and options for old school resolutions of different challenges. Today, the challenges addressed by the skills "Disguise" and "Escape Artist."
Disguise is treated as an "opposed check" in games from 3E onward, meaning that the character's roll is set off against a die roll by the person who might see through the disguise. In older games, the only place this shows up as a "rule" is for the assassin class. Much like climbing and the thief class, it's definitely true that SOME sort of resolution is needed for regular old people making a less-professional attempt at the art.

I generally use this as a flat percentage chance (or a # in 6) to succeed, based on the situation. After all, disguises from a game point of view (a) aren't a trained skill, so nothing about a class or level (other than for assassins) really suggests that level would be a factor, (b) aren't obviously tied to any specific attribute other than slightly to charisma, and (c) don't have an offsetting role-playing component unless the disguise fails, which isn't the issue here.

So in general, I recommend using a base chance, picking the likelihood based on the situation.

Escape Artist:
Try using a check against the character's dexterity (3 or 4d6 if you use a bell curve, d20 if you use a linear chance). Either give a thief an advantage, pose a thiefly solution (you can pick the lock on the cuffs, but at a disadvantage), or allow the thief a dex check when no one else gets one. It's perfectly okay to just say that it's not possible to escape at this time.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Old School Methods 5: Diplomacy and Disable Device

Series continues. Word from our sponsor is to check out the Northlands Saga Kickstarter at

Diplomacy is one of the skill checks that makes the least sense in an old-school type game, since it's almost always a function of player interaction. I truly can't think of any situations where diplomacy, in particular, makes sense to randomize or to base on a character sheet number unless you're working with an entire suite of skill sets in character generation, and even then I think it's a bit weak as a concept. How to convert or use this concept, focusing on concrete ways in which the challenge can be met through player interaction (examples of concrete methods italicized):

"The guard can be persuaded if he is given a token of authority of some kind, and he is not likely to recognize a forgery."
"The merchant can be convinced to assist the characters if they manage to play on the fact that his business will be badly affected if the dragons keep eating people."
"The bartender is lonely and bitter about his life: any friendly approach will result in a flood of useful information and offered assistance."

Disable Device
This skill in the new-school arsenal presumes that the device has been found already, so it is a direct analogue to the thief skills such as "delicate tasks" (in S&W) or "find/remove traps." What's different is that (a) this skill broadens the ability to non-thief characters, which isn't unreasonable as long as the probabilities are very different for a thief vs. another character class. After all, this is where thieves are supposed to shine. (b) The OTHER issue isn't something structural about new-school approaches, but it's a very, very, very common approach in modern adventure design. In more modern adventure design, the traps tend to get harder to detect as the character level advances. I think this tends to devalue the thief if it's across the board. There should still be plenty of traps and locks that are NORMAL in difficulty so the thief can excel. Granted, the super-awesome traps set by deadlier villains will create situations where there's a really tough challenge, but I prefer to have a range that is weighted toward the idea that on normal, everyday trap-triggers, the thief's advancing levels actually mean more successes. There are other reasons for this, and not space to into it.

So, examples of non-thieves disabling traps and other devices:
(1) is there a reason for not just keeping this in the thief's domain? "A thief can disable this trap normally. If a PLAYER describes the disarming process, it can also be disarmed." [this allows for player skill to trump the character sheet, with no character-sheet option for solving it if you aren't the thief you chose to have for precisely this reason].
(2) "Thieves can disable the trap [either normally or with a penalty or bonus. Members of other character classes can also attempt to disarm the trap, but with only a [base chance, why not, it's got nothing to do with level since it's not trained for their class]. [another alternative, if it's just a test of not having your hands shake, then use a dexterity check] DON'T FORGET to compare the probabilities and make sure the thief has the better chance!!

That's it for this installment -- hope you enjoyed!

Art from

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fairly good book

Off the general topic of the blog, but I'm reading an omnibus edition of three novels by Julie E. Czernada: Survival, Migration, and Regeneration. They are science fiction; fairly good for when you've run out of Bernard Cornwell and Neil Gaiman, and you like David Brin type books. I wouldn't recommend them as top-of-the-line, but  not a bad read so far. I'm about in the middle of the second book.

Between getting the air conditioning fixed and fuming through a long power outage today, I've got no fantasy/gaming ideas to post today, so a better-than-average book is all I've got to offer.

EDIT: I got tired of the series about half way through.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Old School Methods 4: Climbing etc.

Although I have to make the due reminder for you go go look at the Northlands Saga Kickstarter we're doing, this post is more about how to convert new-school methods to an old-school one, or (more usefully for most) some resource-options for handling various basic situations in an adventure.

Since I already did a bunch of theory-expounding in the earlier posts, this one is just a set of bare-bones possibilities for each skill.

"If the characters can convince," "a believable lie can," "only a well-constructed and believable story will," "some fast talking might."

"A cleric can convince.." etc. for other applicable classes. E.g., trying to sneak into the magic-users guild or persuade someone that a liquid is actually a potion might look like, "a magic-user will be able to convince," or "a magic-user has a 1 in 6 chance to convince," etc.

This is a common and important one. The essential components are as follows:
(1) Describe nature of the slope/surface. (2) Describe any penalty/bonus for thieves. (3) State if non-thieves can climb. (4) Mention how, if if requires a method beyond just scrambling up (rope, pitons, the right path up, etc). (5) Describe effect of failure.

Example 1 (complex)
"The slopes are steep, although they can be climbed by non-thieves. A non-thief does have a 5% chance to slip and fall, so if there is an assault up the side of the tor, roll 1d20 for each character, each 30ft, with a natural 1 representing a slip and fall. Falling or being pushed off is a different matter: rolling down the slope is not easily controlled. Anyone falling/rolling down the slope incurs 1d2 points of damage for each 30ft rolled downward, but also has a chance to control the fall each 30ft. If the character can roll under his/her Dexterity ability on 3d6, the fall can be stopped (or at least turned into a controlled and non-damaging descent if desired).

Example 2 (fairly simple)
“Climbing the spires is relatively easy due to the irregular surface and can be accomplished automatically by thieves. Non-thieves are treated as if they were thieves with an 80% climb skill.”

Obviously there are MANY different formulations you can use, since there are 5 separate components to the challenge as described above.

This is entirely irrelevant to most old-school adventuring except for McGyvering a solution, such as a temporary raft or a trap. Various possibilities:
Class/race based: "A dwarf can rig the stones to..." "An elf can rig the wooden boards to ..." "A ranger or druid can..." NOTE: these might be an automatic success if you have a character of the right class, or there might be a success number based on a flat success rate (# in 6) or use a saving throw to bring the character's level into a randomized method.
Intelligence based: It might be more of an intellectual challenge, in which case you could use a roll against intelligence (1 in 20 for a linear determination, 3d6 and equal = failure, which is required to allow an 18 to fail, 4d6 for a bell curve that's harder than a 3d6 attribute roll).

Image from

Monday, August 31, 2015

Northlands Saga: Vikings Interrupt Blog Series
Interrupting the series on old-school DMing methods ... vikings. Frog God Games is starting our Northlands Saga Kickstarter today, and it has a Swords & Wizardry (0E, old-school, etc.) version for those of us who don't play Pathfinder. I'm not going to include the "Venture Into Adventure!!" type sales blurb -- it's on the Kickstarter page, and if you like vikings at all, you'll at least be headed there to take a look.

These are excellent adventures (once exception that's not excellent but still solid), and the feel of the thing is like R.E. Howard wrote the Elder Eddas, and Clark Ashton Smith edited it. I'm still in the process of doing the conversions -- the book is written, and the only two missing components are the remaining art (which is coming in at the speed of art) and the conversions (which are being done at the speed of conversions).

For those following the Lost Lands world setting, which is the campaign containing all the old Necromancer Games adventures from the old days, this book is part of the Lost Lands.

This is an "adventure path," which for Pathfinder means that it's a campaign series taking your characters from level 1 to a billion. In S&W, it's altered a bit to make it a linked series like G1-G3, and it goes from level 1 to level 9. A few stretches in terms of the experience gathering there, as one might expect, because it simply compresses level acquisition into too short a period of adventuring.  It's a non-issue if you plan to use the adventures as stand-alone pieces interjected as possibilities into the campaign when the characters reach the right levels. If you want to run it as a series, the progression works, but it would still be beneficial to throw in a few side adventures, IMO.

This is a good one.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Old School Methods 3: Appraisal Skill

The appraisal skill basically lets you guess (accurately or not) at the value of an item. As an in-game, hardwired skill, it basically gives the player a basis for bargaining with someone when selling treasure. This is mildly valuable, since if you're going to involve some bargaining then the seller has to have a basis for asking one price or another. How to handle this?

How is it a test of player skill as opposed to a test of the character sheet?
The job here is to involve player skill in some way (if it's highest quality) or make it an interesting, game-within-a-game test of the character sheet, or else there's no real point to it other than perhaps making a die roll to see how much the treasure (or whatever) actually goes for -- perfectly fine in a regular home-made adventure, a bit weak if you're charging for it.

Most likely this is addressed as an opportunity for a bit of roleplaying, to let the players bargain with an imaginary person, switching up the pace for a short time from die rolling. That's valuable if it's done right. How do you introduce this little bargaining session in a meaningful way?

Given the above, it seems like the optimal approach is either to just hand the players a number they think the item is worth (without needing to randomize it), or to give them a couple of pieces of information they can use in the back-and-forth of a quick haggling session. "The dwarf sees that the gem has a slight flaw." "The fighter notices that the horse has a slight limp." "The thief recognizes this as an antique from the Quoo-Am dynasty, adding additional value." Then they can either feel that they have to hide a problem (directing the buyer's attention away from the limping horse by pointing out the beautiful sunset as you describe the buyer starting to check the horse's legs" or little seeds for fun interactions like that. The focus isn't really on the value of the item, it's on creating a couple of seeds for fun (and SHORT) breaks in the action. Everyone remembers the "These are not the droids you're looking for" scene. Really that's just a traffic stop with a bit of interaction with the cops and a quick-thinking response. The goal with treating appraisals in this way is to create the "Not these droids" encounter, not to actually measure or set the value of treasure.

Handling it this way (examples)
As above. "The [character] notices that the [treasure] is/has [flaw or additional value]. A regular [treasure] is probably going to be sold for [their guess, just hand the number to them], but the [flaws or extras] might drive the price up/down to [top or bottom of negotiating range]. This creates a simple situation where the characters already know the approximate value of a regular item, and know how much their roleplaying could earn them.

If it's not worth roleplaying, just tell them the value so they can write it on the treasure list and move on to the action. It may be worthwhile to give them a value in the country and in the city, to give them a meaningful decision about where to go next.